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Richie Rich candidates in Northeast poll fray

By The Assam Tribune

Agartala, May 3 (IANS): Nearly a third of the candidates contesting the Lok Sabha elections from the Northeast are multi-millionaires.

Of the 232 candidates contesting for the 24 Lok Sabha seats in seven northeastern States, 71 are 'crorepatsi' (multi-millionaires).

"Moneyed men, influential people, celebrities, film stars are increasingly entering into the electoral politics in India. Poor men, women and talented youths are being ignored by the political parties," political analyst and author Brindaban Goswami told IANS. "Unless the commoners, young men and women and fresh talented youth enter parliamentary politics, how will democracy prosper."

The Lok Sabha elections have been in five phases in seven northeastern states - Assam (14 seats), Arunachal Pradesh (2), Meghalaya (2), Manipur (2), Tripura (2), Nagaland (one) and Mizoram (one).

Mani Kumar Subba, a three-time Congress Lok Sabha member from Assam's Tezpur Lok Sabha constituency, is the richest of all Lok Sabha candidates in the northeastern region. He is contesting this time as an independent candidate from the same seat. Known as a lottery baron, Subba, whose total movable and immovable assets according to the affidavit filed with the Election Commission is pegged at Rs 306 crore, had retained the Tezpur seat since 1998 till he lost it to the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) candidate Joseph Toppo in 2009.

Ruling Congress this time denied a ticket to Subba and fielded party legislator Bhupen Bora in the constituency.

The Congress expelled the 56-year-old leader from the party after Subba decided to contest the polls as an independent candidate against the party's official nominee.

Besides Subba, the other five prominent multi-millionaire candidates are independent candidate Denis Siangshai (Meghalaya) who has shown his assets worth Rs 128 crore, followed by All India United Democratic Front's (AIUDF) Siraj Uddin Ajmal (Rs 67 crore, Assam), Meghalaya's sitting Congress Lok Sabha member Vincent H Pala (Rs 49 crore), AIUDF chief and perfume baron Badruddin Ajmal (Rs 43 crore) and independent candidate in Mizoram Robert Romawia Royte (Rs 34 crore).

Siraj Uddin Ajmal is the brother of Badruddin Ajmal and sitting member of Assam assembly. Badruddin Ajmal, incumbent MP, founded the Assam based party few years back.

Sitting Congress MP from Shillong, Vincent H. Pala, was the richest candidate in the last Lok Sabha polls in 2009, but this time 49-year-old businessman Denis Siangshai is the richest candidate in Meghalaya. Interestingly, both Siangshai and Pala are from mountainous East Jaintia hills district.

Mizoram's richest candidate Robert Romawia Royte was fielded by the United Democratic Front (UDF) against ruling Congress candidate and sitting Lok Sabha member CL Ruala. The main opposition UDF is an alliance of eight parties led by the main opposition party Mizo National Front.

Of the 71 multi-millionaire candidates contesting the Lok Sabha elections in the northeastern region, 41 are in Assam, eight in Meghalaya, six each in Arunachal Pradesh and Tripura, five in Manipur, three in Mizoram and two in Nagaland.

Hiranmoy Chakraborty, an election expert, feels that the Election Commission must take such measures so that poor candidates can also contest the elections.

"If only the affluent people contest the elections, how the democracy would be strengthened. The amount of security deposit, which is to paid while submitting nomination by the candidate, must be reduced for the poor candidates," said Chakraborty, who was the Joint Chief Electoral Officer of Tripura and worked closely with the several Chief Election Commissioners, including TN Seshan.

For a general candidate willing to contest in the Lok Sabha polls, he or she has to make security deposit of Rs 25,000 and for Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe candidates it is Rs 12,500.

"Besides the security deposit, a contesting candidate has to spend lakhs of rupees for campaign and to mobilise people. This is impossible for a poor candidate. That's why State funding in elections is indispensable," Chakraborty said.

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